To fall in line with the only clear-cut theme of this album, I will start off by talking about myself. I love Kehlani’s voice. I love how confident and vibrant she sings, especially considering the fact that she’s barely old enough to enjoy an adult beverage in public. I was taken aback the first time I listened to her commercial mixtape You Should Be Here. The tape’s title track remains one of my favorite shower sing-alongs to this day. Kehlani’s talent is undeniable. Her vocals are crisp, her songs are catchy, and her look is gorgeously badass. The high points of her Grammy-nominated mixtape are independent, touching, and soulful. Naturally, I had high hopes for the Oakland native’s debut studio album. But when I heard the singles promoting this album, my expectations dipped considerably. Although Kehlani’s future is still very much so bright, her present endeavor is one of utter disappointment.
I am curious to know which came first: this album’s unimaginative title or its hollow songwriting. SweetSexySavage is pop monotony at its finest. At a daunting 19 tracks in length, SSS uses a familiar filter of yesteryear to lure in a mass audience. Nevertheless, this 20-year-old R&B sound ultimately douses the young songstress in a layer of nostalgia too thick to extract any refreshing or inventive ideas. These hooks are repeatedly shoved down listeners’ ears, highlighting tales of “me, me, me”. Self-love is unquestionably essential, but there is, in fact, a fine line between it and blind egotism. However sweet or savage (two conflicting qualities) Kehlani may be, nothing on this album makes either characteristic compelling or noteworthy. It’s apparent from the title that this album is meant to focus on Kehlani’s idea of herself. Despite that, her execution of self-expression is channeled through other artists and eras.
“Too Much” sounds like a Christina Aguilera rip-off that boasts a post-chorus of “Too much, three much / four much, five much — too much for you”. All that tells me is that she simply has nothing meaningful to say here. Both the lead single “CRZY” and album lowlight “Get Like” emulate vocal styles popularized by Rihanna. For a debut effort, SweetSexySavage contains little to no signature moments. The only cuts on here that elicit a homemade feel are the first two — most notably the album opener “Keep On”. When she speaks on her savagery, Kehlani is at her best. Her straightforward lyrics occasionally match well with the dark, snappy production from Pop & Oak, Jahaan Sweet, and Charlie Heat. But Parrish’s repetitive song structures and smothering hooks impede this album’s creative vision entirely. With her debut Kehlani proves there is a painfully important difference between painting the truth and stating the facts.